Saturday, February 18, 2006

Somewhere in the Empire

My Mum's family still use an ancient colonial expression when it's time for a drink: "The sun's over the yardarm somewhere in the Empire" (ie it's after 6pm somewhere in what used to be the Empire, so we will damn well have a drink if we want one). I always found this amusing because my Mum and her brothers and sister all grew up in a red brick house, in a row of red brick houses, in the town of Melton Mowbray (home of the pork pie). Less like imperial stormtroopers you could never have imagined them to be.

But I was thinking about this yesterday, on a three day trip to Singapore, when we met a client at the Tanglin Club and sat in the lobby waiting for him and reading the long list of Past Presidents, written in ultra-traditional style in gold lettering and dating back to the early 1860s. I noted that it was not until 1980 that a Chinese name appeared on the board, and I couldn't help picturing Colonel Double-Barreled Smythe sipping G&T and holding forth at the bar about the unreliability of the natives.

When our client arrived he said there's still a sign somewhere in the building that says "No dogs or Chinese". He's Chinese and seemed to find this very amusing, but I felt terribly guilty. I'm not sure why, because my family are hardly the idle rich.

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